HARARE - There is no solution in sight to the standoff between striking doctors and the government, despite the crass threats of dismissals by panicking authorities.
The doctors have been on industrial action since Wednesday, to press the government to honour its promises of improving their working conditions.
But stung by the strike, the government has said it will terminate the services of all doctors who will continue to stay away from work — a threat that has failed to move the doctors.
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals clinical director Noah Madziva warned on Wednesday that any doctor who put the health of patients at risk by striking would face dire consequences.
“Every citizen has a right to good health care...therefore anyone who voluntarily withdraws his or her services will be removed from the duty roaster.
“The same will not be allowed to enter the wards or to see any patients until reinstatement upon submission of application to return to duty.
“The operations directorate will conduct a roll call at 0900hrs every morning. Anyone not available at the time will be deemed not available for service and subject to the above-mentioned arrangements,” warned Madziva.
But the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) said doctors would continue with their strike despite the threats.
“We have noted with utter disappointment the new tactics by various clinical directors . . . that instead of engaging doctors and try to find solutions to our current demands, they have reverted to threats and victimisation.
“We inform all our members that a document circulating with threats is the same document that was used to intimidate people just a few years ago. Threatening is a sign of fear, a last ditch attempt at resolving a problem without engaging.
“We will not waiver. To the ministry of Health and other responsible authorities, we urge them to respond to our needs quickly, so that normalcy returns to our hospitals,” ZHDA said.
Doctors want the government to revise upwards, to a minimum of $720, call allowances for the least paid doctors, and that the Health Services Board urgently implements the agreed duty-free framework for all government doctors.
The country’s public health sector is grappling with myriad problems, including having to contend with shortages of critical drugs and antiquated hospital equipment.
Despite these humongous problems, President Robert Mugabe’s misfiring government has once again allocated a measly budget to the health services sector this year.
In his budget presentation in December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa reduced the vote for health from $331 million to a disappointing $282 million — a figure that falls way short of meeting the big demands of the public health sector.
Recently, hospitals warned that they were left with two weeks’ supply of a major drug used during surgical operations — after major drug supplier, GSK, pulled out of the Zimbabwean market last year.
Last year, major referral hospitals also had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.
United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Harare Central Hospital were among the major health facilities that had to suspend normal services as a result of drug shortages, including pethidine — a synthetic compound used as a painkiller, especially for women in labour and during Caesarean operations.
And Binga District Hospital, which is situated in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions, was last year also forced to scale back its services as a result of water and electricity shortages.
Responding to the country’s worsening health crisis, the MDC said it was alarmed by the “lack of concern and empathy” on the part of Zanu PF.
“The ministry of Health and Child Care has adopted a very insensitive and uncaring attitude to the concerns that are being raised by the striking doctors. Our medical doctors are severely over-worked and thoroughly underpaid.
“At a time when . . . Mugabe and members of his inner circle always travel to Singapore, India and some other such far-away places seeking medical treatment, the Zanu PF regime is showing complete and utter disregard for the plight of the masses and our striking medical doctors.
“Patients are stranded and in fact there is preventable loss of life that is taking place in our various public health institutions because there are no medical doctors to attend to patients,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.